One thing that I have decided to do is to catch up on all my lingering posts from last year. Which means that I will
finally be completing the Alternative Paris series. About time, I hear you cry. And I join you in the chorus.
The thing is, I didn’t realise how much we were going to be traveling last year and so had no idea how much I would have to cover on returning to good old blighty. As such there are many that haven’t made it out of the draft box yet. Until now! So her we go into the continuation of the Alternative Paris series.
The Museum of the History of Medicine
Not far from Notre Dame is a hidden gem of a museum located in the grounds of the university. It is somewhere that you might pass by without even realising it even existed, but I am going to share with you why you should take a visit.
You arrive to a very lovely, yet unassuming courtyard in the middle of the university buildings. It took us some time to find our way to the right door because we missed the signs at the entrance. The garden is a lovely place itself to sit for a while in the shade of a sunny day. But we were there for the museum, so headed in with the promise of a rest afterwards.
There is a small charge for the museum and they take NUS cards for the student discount which meant that we only paid 5 euros for the two of us, which is a good price for a charitable museum. (normal price is around 4 euros per person) You enter the museum though a large grand wooden door. Greeted by a long wood filled room with mezzanine and surrounded by glass exhibition cabinets. To the side is where you pay for your entry and can also leave your bags and coats. Perfect for people like us who bring everything with us!
The space was far from what I had anticipated after finding it online. The skylights bringing in natural light made the space feel a whole lot bigger. But the real surprise was the incredible amount of artifacts and materials they had on display. All without making it feel cramped or difficult to navigate.
History of the collection
I think it is amazing that somewhere that houses one of Europe’s oldest collections of medical equipment can remain so overlooked. It focuses on rare medical equipment and tools, often making you cringe a little at the thought. The museum was created in 1803 in the Faculty of Medicine, by Dean Lafaye, for aiding in higher education and research. The collection includes many surgical, diagnostic and physiological instrumentation spanning centuries. It even includes the autopsy tools used on Napoleon.
In addition to the medical models and equipment there are paintings and medical drawings which bring a different light to the subject matter. Putting faces to names and seeing some of the surgeons that implemented the techniques is a really interesting thing.
Makes your eyes water
Now I am certainly not squeamish, but some of the instruments that have been used in the past are enough to even make my eyes water! The tool to remove bladder/kidney stones is one that still stands out now. And all of it would have been done without the anesthetic that we know today. To be honest, though, remarkably people we probably glad for it as previously they would have been in agonising pain for a long time and potentially even died from the afflictions. Can you even begin to imagine?!
Models and diagnosis
Without the ease of sharing information that we have now, medical models were used as a way to help identify conditions and to record findings. They were also very valuable for training the students. Although they can be quite disturbing to look at, they are actually incredibly fascinating.
If we can get even more incredible, you have to see the wooden life-sized anatomical model of the human physiology, believed to have been created in 1799, it contains thousands of movable parts enabling the student to learn the anatomical configuration. It wasn’t just the model itself that impressed me, it was the workmanship of the wood. I just couldn’t imagine having to carve out all the pieces to ensure that they correctly fitted together. Something artists, at the time, would have been tasked with after being presented with a cardaver.
Traditional and Modern
Something that I really enjoyed about our visit was the inclusion of more modern pieces along with the traditional medical equipment. I think it helps to bring relevance to our modern age and to help see why the old pieces are so important to appreciate. My favourite (and I think Jit’s too) was the golden skulls. Joined together at the back with a different skull on each end. They featured fetus in the eye sockets. Sounds rather macabre, but certainly beautiful.
We were in the museum for far longer than we thought we would be. Although it looks rather small, there is a lot to take in. Each cabinet holds a host of equipment and information that you take with you as you move around the space. One thing to note though, is that it is all in French. I managed pretty well translating for Jit with my very rusty French, but you might want to bring along a translation app to help you along. To be honest though, even just looking at the pieces was satisfying, especially for the affordable price.
I would definitely recommend a visit when planning your alternative Paris trip. It’s not every day that you get to see trepanning tools from the 18th Century!
And not forgetting the table made from human flesh, blood and bones!
Does the Museum of the History of Medicine look like somewhere you’d add to your alternative Paris itinerary?
Do you know of any other great offbeat or alternative places to visit in Paris?
Let me know in the comments below so that I can add them to my next visit.
Before you visit:
The information is in French and there is a small fee for visiting, payable by cash only. They do have a space for you to store coats and bags.
The usual opening times are: Opening 14h-17h30 (closing at 17h) except Thursday, Sunday and holidays
Annual closure of the Museum of History of Medicine from 21 December 2017 to 2 January 2018 included Check the website before visiting to be sure that they are open.